So I Met a 5-Year-Old Yesterday and had an Origami ‘Fold-Off’ with Her

My roommate plays in his church’s orchestra and last night he invited me to the annual Christmas music event. The night consisted of dinner at 6, followed by a 2-hour holiday concert.

I don’t go to his church, and he was busy preparing for the show, so when I arrived, I looked around the large room for an open table to sit at. I found a nice family of four to share dinner with. The parents had two little girls, a 3-year-old and 5-year-old. We concluded dinner around 6:30 or so and had plenty of time before the show started. The girls were getting antsy, so I thought I’d entertain them with some origami.

I’ve been folding for about 14 years now, and while I’ve folded all kinds of different models, I only have a few memorized at any given time. I started by folding the 3-year-old a flapping crane, a classic model. I used one of the placeholders on the table, made of cardstock. Unlike the traditional crane model, this version flaps its wings when you hold it at a certain spot and pull the tail.

Her eyes lit up and she flew the crane around for about 10 minutes (and then started making the crane walk on its head).

I didn’t want to leave the other girl, Jasmine, out, so I folded her my signature model: the lily. She watched me intently for about 5 minutes, but when I gave it to her, she wasn’t impressed. She looked at it for a moment, then grabbed a program and decided she’d show me how origami is done.

Origami fold off

The three models I made for the girls, from left to right: a lily, a flapping crane, and a bunny. It’s hard to tell, but the crane’s head is smashed backward from all that walking around upside-down.

Fold-Off!!!

She took the rectangular piece of paper and first folded it diagonal, then tore off the extra so that she had a “perfect” square (the tear wasn’t exactly straight, but she earned an approving nod from me nonetheless: she had the right idea).

Then she folded the square diagonally both ways so that she had a triangle, then started tearing chunks out of the edges. Her dad informed me that she learned how to make snowflakes at school this week. She did the best she could making a snowflake in spite of not having scissors.

(She was actually engaging in kirigami, which is the art of cutting paper).

She gave it to me, then went to work on the next model. She tore the remainder of the program to make a rectangle with the proper proportions, then made an airplane.

Origami fold-off

Jasmine folded me an airplane and snowflake.

I countered by making her a bunny. Once again, she wasn’t impressed. She found a new program and decided to make another model using the entire sheet! My models were all tiny: she was going big by using the largest sheet of paper on the table.

The kindergartener folded another paper airplane, same design as the first one. But then she did something peculiar. Once she was finished, the model nearly symmetrical, she decided to tear a third of the right wing off. Why? I have no idea. But it wasn’t an accident. She intentionally finished the model properly, looked at it, and concluded that it wasn’t finished. So she tore a bit of the right wing off.

Origami airplane

Jasmine’s asymmetrical airplane.

The program was about to start at this point, so we concluded our fold-off. She gave the big plane to her little sister who promptly threw it at me. It did fly a bit in spite of the torn wing.

Her family left before the program concluded, so I never got to say goodbye. I’ll probably never see her again. I can honestly say in my 14 years of folding, I’ve never met somebody who was willing to go toe to toe with me, fold to fold with me, matching each of my models with one of her own. Even though I’ve been folding 3 times longer than she’s walked this earth, I think she won this fold-off.

In honor of her win and my defeat, I’ve decided that I’m going to fold cranes differently from now on. Introducing the Jasmine Variant.

Origami crane, Jasmine Variant

The Jasmine Variant of the traditional crane.

The Jasmine Variant is pretty simple. Start by folding a traditional crane (instructions here, or video tutorial here). When finished, tear about a third of the right wing off. Don’t just fold the tip under, and don’t just inside reverse fold it either. Tear it off. Technically pure origami doesn’t involve tearing, but you know what? Who cares. As long as the tear is for aesthetic reasons and not functional reasons, I’m fine with a little tearing here and there (the bunny I folded, on the other hand, I’m disappointed in, as it involves a tear to form the ears).

I kind of like the asymmetrical look after folding the same model for so many years.

Fold on,
~Dennis

Need Supplies for Your Custom Tabletop Game? Check Out Superior POD

I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons on and off over the years, but one thing that’s always bothered me is the painfully slow combat system. Too many dice rolls, calculating modifications for environmental conditions, armor, surprise, etc., and too much paging through books to remember what your spells and attacks are. A relatively simple 3 vs. 3 battle can often take over an hour to complete!

So I set about creating my own tabletop RPG battle system. My first idea to make the battles move quicker was to eliminate the need for any rule book. Spells, items, and armor, then, would be presented as cards. Spells and items would be drawn at the beginning of battle, and once they are used, they are discarded. Simple, quick, efficient.

The game that has resulted from all this planning is a card game that’s played on a grid. To increase the immersion, I wanted to create actual playing cards for the various spells and items. Luckily I found Superior POD (POD = Print on Demand), a website that prints professional quality playing cards, plus a lot more.

Superior POD

Custom playing cards

Superior POD’s website looks a little dated, so I was hesitant at first to us it. It’s a small, family-owned print shop, and they print all manner of things: books, posters, business cards, standard stuff. But they also print a surprising number of gaming products.

I experimented with their Poker Size Custom Card Decks. The cards measure 3.5″ by 2.5″. The website features Photoshop templates for the cards (unfortunately you do need to know a bit about Photoshop to design your cards). The templates are divided into 18 cards. You can insert text, photos, really anything you want. You design both the front and the back of the card, upload the sheets to the website, and away you go! They charge $1.54 for each 18 card sheet, which I thought was pretty reasonable.

Superior POD unboxing

Unboxing my first four decks! My game is based on Final Fantasy (though only for personal use, Square Enix! No commercial interests here!). The game features white, black, and green magic, hence the different color of the decks.

I made a mistake, though, when I ordered my first batch of cards. I designed the fronts and backs of the cards, just like instructed. What I forgot to consider is that the sheet for the backs of the cards is reversed compared to the front of the sheet. The sheets were divided into 3 columns of 6 cards each; what that means is that if the cards in the leftmost column are supposed to have a unique backing, then the design needs to go on the rightmost column. Anyway, look below to see what happened with my first purchase:

Stack of wrong cards

Stack of incorrect cards. Look at the bottom: that green card (which explains the abilities of green mages) is supposed to have a picture of a green mage on the other side. Instead, it has a picture of the white mage. Oops!

The mistake was totally my fault. Fortunately, it only affected a quarter of the cards from my first order. $5 down the drain, not a huge loss. I put in a second order, fixing my mistakes, and the cards arrived in perfect condition: glossy, smooth, unbent, and ready for playing! I now have the 189 cards needed for my play testing to begin!

Shipping concerns

Even though I’m extremely happy with the quality of Superior POD’s products, one thing deserves mentioning: they are really slow in fulfilling orders. My first order took a month to fulfill. The printing itself is supposed to take around 10 business days, not counting the standard shipping after that (about a week). Because they are a small, family-owned business, a little warning came up when I checked out that orders do take a while to process.

For my second order, I waited a month without hearing anything back. I contacted the company directly, explaining that I was hoping to play test the game over Christmas and needed the cards soon. The president of the company emailed me back right away, apologizing for the delay, saying there was no excuse. He printed the cards that night and sent them out the next morning via Priority Mail, and I had them three days later. So at least their customer service is friendly!

Other products worth investigating

Like I said, I only have experience with the playing cards, but I have no doubt their other gaming products are just as good. Here are some other products to check out:

  • Card Decks: In addition to the poker size, they also have other card sizes should you need them, including square, mini, and tarot card sizes.
  • Game Boxes, including the Large size box (8.5″ by 7.25″ by 1″), the Long Deck Box for storing hundreds of cards (several sizes available), and Tuck Boxes for storing smaller amounts of cards (which is what I’ll be looking into!)
  • Game Boards, high quality chipboard (just like traditional board game boards). The boards come in two sizes, 18″ by 18″ or 17″ by 22″. I’ll definitely be getting one of these boards for my game!
  • Rule Books and Rule Sheets
  • Play Money. Does your game use currency? Design your own money and print it on up to 7 different color papers! A bundle of 28 bills is only $0.39!
  • Chipboard Counters, including 1″ square counters, 5/8″ square counters and 2″ hex counters. I’m particularly excited about the hex counters: my brother is developing a game based on a hex grid and ordered wooden hexagons from a guy online, and while the counters are hexagon shaped, they weren’t cut with precision quality, meaning, the hexagons don’t neatly fit together like they should, thus they are useless for gaming. As long as Superior POD can cut their hexagons straight, everything should be good!

If you’re into designing your own tabletop game (and again, know a bit about Photoshop), give Superior POD a shot and let me know what you think! If you’re into gaming like I am, there’s no reason for you not to experiment with creating your own game. Sure, it’s fun to buy games in the store and play somebody else’s games, but Superior POD gives you all the tools you need to create your own game. Believe me, having high-quality professional products to play with is so much better than printing cards or markers on your boring old black and white printer.

Game on,
~Dennis

The 8 Rules of RPG Inventory Management, and How They Apply to Life

I’ve been playing RPGs for a long time: The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, Chrono Trigger, Pokemon, and more. All RPGs require you to manage an inventory of items, armor, weapons, and other objects to assist you in your quest.

Inventory management systems share a lot of similarities, despite a few differences. Games like Baldur’s Gate have more realistic inventories wherein your character only has a certain amount of space to put items in, whereas other games like Final Fantasy let you carry an absurd number of items with no logical explanation why.

Having played video games for 20+ years, I’ve long ago learned the language of games: how to maximize resources and exploit rules to play the game most efficiently. This knowledge, though, isn’t confined to any game: this knowledge has translated into my life. The following are 8 life lessons I’ve learned from inventory management systems.

1. Keep like-items next to each other

Final Fantasy Inventory

Inventory from Final Fantasy VII. Image courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wiki.

A sloppy inventory makes for disorganized game play. Similar items should be close to each other so that you know at a glance what you have. That means potions get grouped with potions, armor gets grouped with armor, and rings get grouped with rings.

How this applies to my life: My desk drawers, art supplies, papers, and books are all organized into like-boxes or shelves. I rarely have something where it does not belong (like a book next to my computer instead of on the shelf).

2. Stack like-items whenever possible

Stack of tupperware

Good inventory management means “stacking” items whenever possible. Instead of having 10 of the same potion taking up 10 different slots, most games will allow you to stack like-items on top of each other (see in the first image how each item stack contains 90+ units?). This keeps the inventory clean and saves space.

How this applies to my life: I live in an apartment with three other guys. These guys are constantly going home to see family, and invariably they return with food in Tupperware dishes. These dishes accumulate until the next time they go home, so understandably our cupboard contains 15 different kinds of Tupperware at any given time. For a while, the cupboard was a mess, as nothing went together. It only took 10 minutes to clean it out, organize like-Tupperware together, and discard Tupperware that had mismatched lids and bottoms.

And surprisingly, it’s stayed organized for about two months now.

3. Keep the most frequently used items easily accessible

Minecraft inventory

Some games, usually computer games, allow you to assign some of your items to “hot keys,” usually numbers 1 through 0. Even if the game contains dozens or hundreds of different items, chances are you only use a portion of those items on a regular basis. In Minecraft, for instance, I always keep my common weapons and tools in the first five slots, torches in the last slot, and then whatever blocks I need at the moment to construct my world in the remaining slots.

How this applies to my life: When I go camping or backpacking, certain items go to the top of the pack: knives, water bottles, snacks, first aid kit. When I fly, same thing: clothes and shoes go to the bottom of the carry-on, whereas the laptop, a book, pen and paper, and snacks go to the side pockets where they are easily accessible during the plane ride.

4. Sell the stuff you’ve outgrown, and throw away the worthless stuff

Butterfly in Skyward Sword

I caught another butterfly! Image courtesy of Zeldapedia.

In RPGs, not all items are relevant by the end of the game. In fact, most won’t be. Many RPGs give you weak weapons and armor early on, then you upgrade it to better stuff. At this point, it’s wisest to sell the old stuff: it’s no longer useful to you: you’ve outgrown it.

Or, in other RPGs, you’ll end up accumulating a LOT of a certain item. In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I ended up catching a ton of Blessed Butterflies compared to other bugs. When this happens, sell the excess as soon as you can. Even if this stuff isn’t taking up space in your inventory, the extra cash can help finance future purchases.

How this applies to my life: At one point, I realized I had 3 computer monitors but was only using one (the HD widescreen monitor). So I’m in the process of selling the other two: I’ve outgrown them and haven’t used them in years. Not everything is worth selling though. Sometimes worthless items in RPGs will only net 1 or 2 gold pieces, so selling them isn’t worth the time: I usually just toss this stuff. In the same way, some of my possessions aren’t worth reselling or donating: faded or torn clothes, dishes that have lost their non-stick surface, or ratty old cleaning products.

5. If you store things in a box, you’ll forget about it

Generation 1 Poke Center

That computer on the right stored all your pokemon. Image courtesy of Bulbapedia.

Some games don’t allow you to carry the world on your back. That doesn’t mean you are limited in the amount of possessions you can acquire! Some RPGs feature storage systems whereby you can leave your unused items in a box of some sort to be retrieved at a later time.

In some cases, this is great! You get to keep more possessions! But what I’ve found about these systems is that if I put something in a box, I usually forget about. I continue through the game just fine without that item. And if I’ve forgotten about it, I haven’t used it: I probably don’t even need it.

How this applies to my life: I’ve moved a lot over the past 10 years: I was moving once a year for about an 8 year stretch. Some things get put away in boxes, and when it’s time to move again, I often realize I never opened or unpacked certain boxes. Those unopened, sealed boxes are always a reminder, then, that maybe I don’t need what’s inside. Now, I do keep a lot of things for sentimental value. But sometimes things just have to go.

6. Sometimes 20 minutes of grinding will pay off in the long run

A lot of RPGs feature “grinding.” For those unfamiliar with the term, grinding, or “leveling up” involves wandering an area to fight the same monsters over and over again, usually to get more experience points, gold, or items. Some gamers bemoan grinding and think it’s just superficial “busy work” designed to artificially lengthen the time it takes to complete a game. Maybe so. But grinding doesn’t have to be conducted in four-hour chunks. Sometimes even 20 minutes of grinding is enough to find more items or gain enough gold to buy something you need. And when you break it into small chunks, grinding doesn’t seem like a chore at all.

How this applies to my life: I’ve had a lot of part-time jobs over the years. Sometimes opportunities arise where I can work extra hours. I don’t like working extra hours, but taking advantage of those opportunities when they arose went a long way in strengthening my pocketbook. Putting in extra hours, then, is the real-life equivalent of grinding. The short-term sacrifice of an evening or weekend does pay off in the long run.

7. When you enter a new town, stock up on essentials

Final Fantasy VI town

Town from Final Fantasy VI, Nikeah. Image courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wiki.

Some items are frequently expended in RPGs, usually healing items and ammunition (arrows, bolts, rocks). Every RPG player knows that when you enter a new town that before you blow all your money on a shiny new sword, it’s wise to first stock up on those essential items. Whenever I reach new towns, I stock up on essential items because I never know when I’m going to be crawling an endless dungeon that has few item drops.

How this applies to my life: Buying in bulk is usually regarded as wise because it’s cost effective. Whether it’s groceries, toilet paper, or other essentials, buying larger quantities usually results in a cheaper per-unit cost. It’s hard to buy in bulk when you’re young,: you don’t have a lot of money to think in the long-term, or you don’t have space in a tiny apartment to store mountains of products. Whenever possible, though, I try to buy larger quantities of the stuff I need when I go to the grocery store or Walmart. I know I’ll use the stuff eventually.

8. Never spend all your money at once

As I’ve discussed throughout this post, items in RPGs aren’t always useful: you outgrown them, you find something better, or maybe they just don’t work with your character class. In this case, items are better sold off so you can buy something you really need.

I’ve learned in RPGs, though, that it’s not usually wise to spend all your money at once. What if your party gets severely attacked and you need more healing items than you anticipated? If you don’t have the money to buy them, sometimes you come up with creative ways of surviving until you have the necessary funds to purchase what you need. It can be done, but it isn’t always enjoyable.

How this applies to life: Easy: you never know when you’ll have unexpected expenses: medical, car-related, electronic. Saving money is real-life is crucial if you want to have something to rely on when those unanticipated expenses come up. Getting the items you want in real-life is contingent upon having the necessary funds to do so.

For those of you who are RPG fans, have inventory systems taught you something else? If you have anything to add to this list, leave a comment below!

Game on,
~Dennis

My Favorite Still-Image from The Big Bang Theory Opening: The Hands of God Gripping the Sphere of Life

The Big Bang Theory has an iconic opening. Not only is the song catchy, but the opening is composed almost entirely of flashing still images, roughly chronicling the history of the earth and humanity.

There are images of dinosaurs, cavemen, monkeys, the pyramids, Abraham Lincoln, airplanes, space, and even breakdancers. For a full breakdown, check out Harald Kraft’s page.

One image, though, always stays with me. The intro starts with a view of space, but then holds on a single image for a few seconds before blasting through 108 more images. And what image does it begin with?

The hands of God gripping the sphere of life.

Big Bang Theory opening

Actually, not really. The image is a cell going through mitosis.

The cell is in the anaphase, which means the sister chromatids have separated to either side of the cell. At this point, the cell is ready to divide in two.

The way the chromatids are arranged, though, look like hands to me. I know that the nucleus is roughly spherical shaped, so to me the chromatids look like fingers wrapped around a ball.

Because I proclaim God to be the origin of all life, this image is a reminder to me that God is at the center of all creative acts, from the creation of the universe (the titular “Big Bang”) to the creation of each life.

It’s an odd thing that a show largely about atheists, who occasionally mock religion (or in the case of Howard and Raj, mostly disregard the teachings of their respective religions except when it’s convenient for an easy joke), has the effect of uplifting my faith every time I watch it.

~Dennis

P.S. Interestingly, the opening also features several explicitly Judeo-Christian images, such as images of Moses, Jesus, and David as well as the Notre Dame de Paris. My eye can never process these images when the opening is playing at its proper speed; I only noticed them when I saw all the images laid out separately on Harald Kraft’s page linked above.

Surprise Score: An Early Example of the Videogame Rating Council

Recently, a friend of a friend acquired a large amount of classic video games for free. As he had no need of these games (or the ability to play them) he was trying to give them away.

I scored some neat finds: Final Fantasy VII (PSX), Wave Race 64 (which unfortunately doesn’t work), and Metal Gear (NES, the original). He also had a copy of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for the Sega Genesis, which I wanted for nostalgic reasons (I learned, though, that the Power RangersĀ game I was familiar with was the SNES version, which is a side-scrolling beat ’em up. The Genesis version is a 1 vs. 1 fighter).

I got the game, and the box is a little beat up, but what do you expect after 20 years?

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Sega Genesis box

Look in the corner: see that little marker next to Trini? That’s not an ESRB rating: that’s a Videogame Rating Council rating!

General Audience GA rating from the Videogame Rating Council VRC

I never owned Sega products growing up, so I wasn’t familiar with the VRC until recently. The ESRB was established in 1994 following US Senate hearings on violent video games. Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl were concerned about the level of violence in video games, and they called in Sega and Nintendo to see what they were doing about it.

Sega had previously released a few sensational games, most notably the vampire game Night Trap and the famous fighting game Mortal Kombat. These violent games sparked a lot of controversy, so Sega quickly established their own rating system as a way of saying, “Hey, we’re just as concerned about violence as you are. That’s why we recommend some games for young children and some for older teenagers.”

The VRC had three ratings: General Audience (equivalent to a G movie rating), MA-13 (equivalent to PG-13), and MA-17 (equivalent to R). Sega administered this council very inconsistently and didn’t provide a lot of education about how it worked or what the content standards were.

At the conclusion of the hearings, the Senate issued video game companies a threat: regulate yourself and establish a rating system, or the government will do it for you. Thankfully, the video game industry agreed to self-regulate and established the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Sega tried to get Nintendo to adopt their system, but as this was a time of bitter rivalry between Sega and Nintendo, the house of Mario wouldn’t go for that.

To me, then, this box is a fascinating historical reminder of a group that lasted approximately a year before being supplanted by the ESRB.

Game on,
~Dennis